Updated: May 22, 2022 9:01:15 am
Shailesh Shukla, 57, runs a travel company and a cable TV service in Udhna area of Surat and heads the Surat city BJP media cell. May 1, Sunday, had been a busy day for Shukla, with celebrations marking the Foundation Day of Gujarat, and a Bharuch rally by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. So, he was hoping to make the best of the three-day vacation BJP Gujarat chief C R Paatil had announced starting May 2.
It was not to be. On May 2, AAP and BJP workers clashed just outside the BJP headquarters, Kamalam, in Udhna, over an alleged assault on AAP corporators at Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC). AAP is the main opposition in the SMC. Two AAP workers were injured at Kamalam and police detained 16, including AAP Gujarat chief Gopal Italia.
While the 16 detained (none from BJP) now face a criminal case for rioting, Shukla ended up spending the whole day at office. The next day, May 3, was Parshuram Jayanti, where Shukla joined a rally by the Samast Gujarat Brahma Samaj, followed by a meeting. The only relief, he says, was that there were no calls “from office”.
That evening he took his family out to a park and they returned after dinner at a restaurant – the first outing by them together since October, for his son’s birthday. But before he retired for the night, Shukla flipped through all the news channels.
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On May 4, Shukla took time out to take updates on the travel company being handled by his son Hardik, 30. His wife Jyoti handles their cable business.
A B.Tech, Shukla says he was inducted into the BJP in 1998 by then Surat unit president Narottam Patel. Now, he routinely spends five hours every day at the party office and the Udhna ward office. “Many a times, I get late due to the busy schedule of the party. I also coordinate with party workers for any event in the city”, he says.
When he joined, his days were even busier, Shukla says. “BJP workers were less in number and the party didn’t have a lot of resources, though workers were enthusiastic and worked hard. Now we have many resources and even a huge force of party workers.”
To him, the truncated vacation wasn’t surprising or disappointing. A BJP karyakarta can “never stop being one”.
Announcing the three-day vacation for BJP workers on April 21, Paatil had said that from May 2 to 4, the BJP would not have “a single political event in the state”. “Party workers should plan a picnic or tour with their family and enjoy themselves, because for the next six months, they will have to work hard till the Assembly elections. They will not get a holiday during Diwali either.”
Senior BJP leaders say that while the party was earlier “mass-based”, it got a formal structure when Narendra Modi was general secretary in-charge of Gujarat in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Now, its state organisation is aligned like its structure for elections, with an office-bearer post called ‘panna pramukh’ in-charge page-wise of the electoral rolls.
Party sources claim that “nearly a sixth of Gujarat’s 6.5 crore population”, or 1.08 crore people, are now enrolled with the BJP. On its foundation day last month, the BJP gave photo identity cards to 1.29 lakh workers designated as “sakriya sabhya (active worker)”.
Says a party leader: “An aspiring BJP worker is expected to be available on phone and attend the programmes assigned to them. At any function of the party, the presence of each worker is ensured, right up to the pradesh (state) level.”
Crediting Modi as “the brain behind the structure”, the leader says current Gujarat chief, C R Paatil, “has taken it to the next level”.
Sangita Choksi, a corporator from Ward 11 of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), was lucky to use the three vacation days for a pilgrimage. She said she had taken a vow back in February last year to make the trip “if I won the VMC elections”. “Covid-19 and hectic party activities did not allow me to take a vacation. So, these three days announced by Paatil saheb came as a boon.”
Choksi feels the party must consider giving such time-offs regularly, like every six months. “It will really help the performance of party workers… It helps refresh the mind as no one disturbs you with anything related to work.”
A regular day for Choksi means attending to public complaints, resolving civic issues, participating in meetings of the VMC as well as at the party office, and handling activities of the BJP women’s wing.
Choksi, a single parent, was accompanied by her son and daughter-in-law for the vacation.
Sanjay Pavar, 36, is a member of the BJP OBC Morcha from Chandkheda area of Ahmedabad city and runs a laundry business. As a party karyakarta, he has tasks assigned to him like helping people get Aadhaar and Ayushman cards, attending to their requests for road repairs, and so on.
After such party-related work during the day, he personally delivers clothes laundered and ironed by his staff to customers as this, he says, helps him build a connection with them.
May 2-4, Pavar says, he got much-needed time with family as the party did not compel them to come to the headquarters even to attend the event where sitting Congress MLA Ashwin Kotwal joined the BJP on May 3.
However, he says, he didn’t let his karyakarta work lag. “We continued our work for people’s welfare. I helped a boy get a ration card and attended the opening of an office of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in Chandkheda,” says Pavar, who lives in a large joint family with his wife and two children.
Ranjanben Parmar, 51, a secretary in the Mehsana district unit of the BJP, has been with the party for 28 years. Her husband is an office-bearer in the BJP’s Mehsana town unit. Parmar says she too decided to set aside some part of the vacation for party work. “I worked to complete the setting up of page committees. I also helped some women get interest-free loans (under the Mukhyamantri Mahila Utkarsh Yojana)”, says Parmar, who also runs a voluntary organisation for women producing handicraft items.
Most days, she gets to spend only the afternoons at home with her family. The couple have two sons and a daughter, of which two are married.
Pratibha Desai, a practising lawyer, joined the BJP around eight years ago. Her husband Saurabh Desai, a property dealer, is also a karyakarta. On May 3, she and her husband went out with their teenage sons for a movie at a multiplex. The next day, they had a family lunch with her parents and in-laws, at home.
Desai, who advises the party on legal matters, especially related to women, and is also associated with the Surat Police’s Save the Girl Child Campaign in schools, says her days are full. “I set aside two hours every day for party work, apart from my regular responsibilities. On May 2 too, I went to Sandipani School (a self-financed school) at Pandesara with a woman police officer to sensitise girl students of Classes 7-10 on sexual harassment.”
Desai says she was motivated to join the BJP after accompanying her husband to party events.
For BJP Vadodara Ward 13 general secretary Manish Wagh, the vacation was limited to just break from party activities. Says the 41-year-old, “I work at a private company and obviously, there was no vacation from the office. But the time-off from party activities allowed me to truly connect with the family after really long… We have been so busy with ground work since the Covid-19 outbreak. These three days, after work hours, I caught up with friends and we planned a huge get-together at Ajwa-Nimeta (a lake reservoir, 25 km from Vadodara).”
Wagh’s party activities include helping people enrol in government schemes like Jivan Beema, meeting targets set by the party against malnutrition, as well as overseeing outreach of the panna pramukhs and voter programmes undertaken by the party.
In the 25 years of his association with the BJP, this was the first instance of the party declaring a holiday, Wagh says. “It came as a surprise to all of us… We thought Paatil saaheb was joking, but no. It is a brilliant idea. We do deserve time-off from politics.”
General secretary of Gujarat BJP Pradipsinh Vaghela says they got very good feedback on this first-time “experiment”. “Party workers could spend time with their families. The BJP being a party that constantly works for different causes, the workers remain quite busy. And it was good that they got some free time.”
On whether they are planning a repeat, Vaghela says: “At present, it is not certain if this will be made a regular feature. But, if done, it will be welcome.”
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